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Sunday, 2 May, 1999, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
The future of Microsoft
Microsoft windows 98
Computer experts were looking to shed some light on Microsoft's case
As the government prepares to renew its court battle with software giant Microsoft, independent computer industry analyst Graham Lea looks at what leading commentators in the industry think should be done to loosen its stranglehold over the computer industry.

Anticipating that Microsoft would be found to be guilty of monopolising the Internet browser market in its long-running anti-trust trial with the US Government, veteran consumer campaigner Ralph Nader arranged a conference in Washington last week to consider what actions could be taken against it.

Not surprisingly Microsoft declined an offer to co-sponsor the event at the Carnegie Institute, even though some speakers sympathetic to Microsoft's case had been invited.

Splitting up

Microsoft's Bill Gates
The anti-trust trial promises to give Bill Gates plenty to think about
Lawyer Glenn Manishin of Blumenfeld & Cohen thought splitting Microsoft into what are often called "Baby Bills", (along the lines of the splitting of phone giant AT&T into so-called Baby Bells), was preferable to setting out rules on how Microsoft would have to conduct its business in the future.

However Microsoft supporter and economist Professor Stan Lebowitz from the University of Texas rejected this idea, claiming it would be "very costly, very good for Microsoft's competitors, and not very good for Microsoft". He said that it could increase the cost of software development by as much as $28.9bn, or around 6% of the annual industry revenue.

Nevertheless his claims that Microsoft was being punished for being successful and had a history of producing very good products, did little to endear himself to the audience.

Breaking the rules

Mike Pettit, President of ProComp (an industry body broadly opposed to Microsoft's business practices) drew attention to the success of the Baby Bells, where prices had gone down, the quality of service had gone up, and innovation had increased.

He also pointed out that even Microsoft's partners did not think that the software giant would follow any court-imposed rules on its future conduct.

Gary Reback of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati and one of Microsoft's toughest legal critics, observed that Microsoft acolytes were concerned that the software group had done a poor job of presenting its case. Mr Reback's response was: "What you see in court is the true Microsoft."

He doubted whether any judgement that required judicial monitoring would work, instead Mr Reback suggested that the goal should be to allow PC makers to include whatever software they chose with their PCs.


Lean Louis Gassee, CEO of Be Inc (a developer of an alternative operating system to Windows) said: "Power corrupts, and monopoly power corrupts absolutely. Although Microsoft claims it wants to innovate, in reality it wants to prevent innovation, to protect its monopoly position."

For Ed Black, President of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, it was important that any remedy ensured that Microsoft did not have to be taken to court again and again by the US Department of Justice. In his opinion, Microsoft did not accidentally stray over antitrust boundaries: it was wilfully planned by senior executives.

Triumph of democracy

Professor Roberto Di Cosmo, a computer scientist from the ENS, Paris, was outspoken about how Microsoft had built and maintained its monopoly: "Start with a good gift (from IBM); trap the PC maker; fool the consumer; and abuse intellectual property. Mr Di Cosmo's book "Hijacking the world: the dark side of Microsoft" was published recently.

Ralph Nader noted that if there were no satisfactory outcome to the Microsoft trial, it was very probable that there would be political pressure for special legislation.

His final rallying call was: "I say to Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and all the rosy-cheeked people at Redmond: there is an inevitability in the triumph of democracy!"

The anti-trust trial is expected to resume in mid-May.

Links to more Microsoft stories are at the foot of the page.

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